Atheists Continue Battle Against Steel Cross Display Inside 9/11 Museum

Atheist activists are continuing their battle against the inclusion of a steel-shaped cross in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, giving a legal complaint against the Christian symbol another shot in front of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday.

American Atheists, an activist group committed to church-state separatism, has long fought the presence of the symbol, which was formed by steel beams and discovered at the World Trade Center site in the wake of the terror attack.

David Silverman, the organization’s president, has argued in the past that the cross was included in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum for religious purposes and that it should not be displayed. Now, his case — American Atheists, Inc., et al. v. Port Authority of New York et al. — will, once again, be considered.

The World Trade Center cross was pulled from the rubble of the 9/11 attacks. The cross is part of the planned 9/11 Museum. (AP)
The World Trade Center cross was pulled from the rubble of the 9/11 attacks. The cross is part of the planned 9/11 Museum. (AP)

“We are confident that we will eventually win this case and that cross will be removed, or atheists will be allowed to have our own symbol in there,” he told CNN last year.

Silverman recently reiterated these views in an email to Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta, during which he expounded upon the reason that he and American Atheists are opposed to the 9/11 cross.

“This is neither artifact nor art — it is a Christian shrine, made to service Christians and place Christianity above others at the memorial,” he said. “Assertions to the contrary are simply dishonest — this is a Christian cross on public land, paid for with public money, and that means we are entitled to equal representation — they can take the cross out or include atheists.”

Silverman said that he is open to a compromise that would allow atheist representation to be included in the museum, but that non-believers do not want to be excluded. It is unclear what this secular symbol or representation would look like.

A WJLA-TV report from last year explains the ongoing debate:

In the initial complaint, American Atheists said that plaintiffs were suffering “physical and emotional pain” as a result of the cross.

“Named plaintiffs have suffered, inter alia, dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish from the knowledge that they are made to feel officially excluded from the ranks of citizens who were directly injured by the 9/11 attack and the lack of acknowledgement of the more than 1,000 non- Christian individuals who were killed at the World Trade Center,” it read.

But for many Americans — specifically those most impacted by the terror attack — the cross has served as a symbol of hope. There’s also the argument that the beam formation, regardless of religious connotation, is a part of the historical narrative surrounding the attack, the Christian Post reported.

American Atheists’ past legal arguments against the cross have been thrown out, so if precedent is any indication of what might happen, legal victory is a long shot.